Towards an economy of 'care, craft and culture' - RSA

Towards an economy of 'care, craft and culture'

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  • Social brain

An economy of care, craft and culture. Who could be against that? At an explicit level, nobody, but all the emphasis on 'jobs', 'growth' and 'productivity' risks undermining all of these things in the name of labour productivity- growth fuelled by increasing the the economic outputs from human inputs.

I just came upon a further restatement of the argument against the relentless and arguably slightly mad pursuit of economic growth that we have considered here before. Tim Jackson gives a typically lucid account of why the pursuit of labour productivity, which is widely assumed to be a sound economic objective, should perhaps be entered into the new edition of the DSM (the reading of which should also perhaps be categorised as a further thing to be entered into the DSM... ad infinitum...but that's another story.)

The thrust of Jackson's argument is that we should actually strive to be less productive, because the pursuit of productivity has not been sufficiently thought through. The point is not just about the mathematics of climate change and the need for absolute rather than relative decoupling of economic growth from ecological impact. He also argues that three of the things that suffer most directly from the pursuit of labour productivity are things that are not based on the creation of economic output but still matter hugely to our quality of life and shared prosperity:

1) Care: the time taken to look after each other

2) Craft: the time taken to make or fix things ourselves and/or make them really good rather than merely functional.

3) Culture: the time taken to produce artistic works of enduring value.

These things all suffer from the logic of increasing output per hour. There has to be an answer to the 'what's the value of that?' that is not reducible to economic terms, and yet, at the same time, we need to pay the people working in those areas in a way that reflects that value. Many have given up on what they love to do, do well, and is of value to others, because they can't pay their bills by doing so.

The full article is here and I like the way the hard-headed way that it ends, because such a claim is serious enough to be worth fighting for in practical language.

"Of course, a transition to a low-productivity economy won’t happen by wishful thinking. It demands careful attention to incentive structures — lower taxes on labor and higher taxes on resource consumption and pollution, for example. It calls for more than just lip service to concepts of patient-centred care and student-centred learning. It requires the dismantling of perverse productivity targets and a serious investment in skills and training. In short, avoiding the scourge of unemployment may have less to do with chasing after growth and more to do with building an economy of care, craft and culture. And in doing so, restoring the value of decent work to its rightful place at the heart of society."


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  •  This reminds me of the arguments made in Schumacher's "Small is beautiful". As the problems of production will always go hand in hand with problems of consumption, Schumacher's accurate prediction of the consequences of increased production and the focus on growth are as relevant now as when it was written in the 70's. 

    Then perhaps we should be re-reading this more closely - looking at the "Buddhist Economics" he suggested and appropriating them today.

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